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Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice is an act or omission by a health care provider which deviates from accepted standards of practice in the medical community and which causes injury to the patient. In the United States and other countries, a specific medical malpractice law has developed. In English law, the issue of liability is a subset of professional negligence where, under the Bolam Test, a doctor will be liable unless shown to have acted in accordance with a reasonable body of medical opinion. In Australia, this test has been replaced but the principles are comparable. In recent years doctors have blamed these types of lawsuits for large rate increases in medical malpractice insurance, resulting in calls from some groups for tort reform.

The plaintiff's damages may include compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are both economic and non-economic. Economic damages include financial losses such as lost wages (sometimes called lost earning capacity), medical expenses and life care expenses. These damages may be assessed for past and future losses. Non-economic damages are assessed for the injury itself: physical and psychological harm, such as loss of vision, loss of a limb or organ, the reduced enjoyment of life due to a disability or loss of a loved one, severe pain and emotional distress. Punitive damages are only awarded in the event of wanton and reckless conduct.

Medical malpractice claims can help identify areas where primary health care in the United States needs improvement, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. The Academy refers to a study entitled "Learning from Malpractice Claims about Negligent, Adverse Events in Primary Care in the United States", in suggesting that the medical community can learn from tort claims. In that study, researchers looked at primary care malpractice claims settled between 1985 and 2000 in the United States. The study focused on a subset of 5,921 claims that were clear errors. The researchers found:

68 percent of the errors were in outpatient settings and resulted in more than 1,200 deaths.
Negligence was more likely to have severe outcomes when they occurred in hospitals, but the total number of high severity outcomes and death was larger in the outpatient setting.
Of the 10 most prevalent medical conditions with error-related claims, no single condition accounted for more than five percent of all negligent claims.
Diagnostic error accounted for more than one-third of the claims.[3]
A recent study by Heathgrades found that an average of 195,000 hospital deaths in each of the years 2000, 2001 and 2002 in the U.S. were due to potentially preventable medical errors. Researchers examined 37 million patient records and applied the mortality and economic impact models developed by Dr. Chunliu Zhan and Dr. Marlene R. Miller in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in October of 2003. The Zhan and Miller study supported the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) 1999 report conclusion, which found that medical errors caused up to 98,000 deaths annually and should be considered a national epidemic.

A 2006 follow-up to the 1999 Institute of Medicine of the National Academies study found that medication errors are among the most common medical mistakes, harming at least 1.5 million people every year. According to the study, 400,000 preventable drug-related injuries occur each year in hospitals, 800,000 in long-term care settings, and roughly 530,000 among Medicare recipients in outpatient clinics. The report stated that these are likely to be conservative estimates. In 2000 alone, the extra medical costs incurred by preventable drug related injuries approximated $887 million -- and the study looked only at injuries sustained by Medicare recipients, a subset of clinic visitors. None of these figures take into account lost wages and productivity or other costs.

If you or a loved one believe to have been injured as a result of medical malpractice, please contact us using the form to the right or by calling 800-913-4499.

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